Harvard University Press, $59.95 hb, 369 pp
Providence, understood as God’s governance and care of the world, has an important place in religion. Church leaders speak of it with a view to giving comfort in adversity, especially when there has been large-scale loss of life, as in terrorist attacks or earthquakes. There is often some defensiveness in this appeal to providence because of the tension between belief in a loving and all-powerful God and the occurrence of what could be seen as preventable evil. Genevieve Lloyd – the first female professor of philosophy appointed in Australia, now retired – discusses providence in Christian belief, especially in considering Augustine’s thoughts, in late antiquity, on divine justice and the ‘ordering’ of evil, and Leibniz’s bold attempt, in early modernity, to reconcile divine providence with evil, and freedom with necessity, in ‘the best of all possible worlds’. There is attention, too, to Voltaire’s sharp critique of facile optimism, and to Hume’s sceptical probing of what can be known with certainty in these matters. More generally, Providence Lost explores the long tradition of philosophical inquiry, from the Greek tragedians to modern times, that gave rise to a range of different conceptions of providence in the context of human freedom, necessity, fate and fortune.